Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Open Book intern Bohdi Byles on cracking open the book industry

The Open Book: Australian Publishing Internship is a six-month internship program aimed to increase cultural diversity in the Australian publishing workforce. This year’s pilot program offered two paid placements, one based in Sydney and one in Melbourne, for interns to gain in-house experience across three Australian publishing organisations in each city. Bohdi Byles, who was selected as the Sydney intern, shares his experience of the new program.

When I got the phone call to tell me that I’d received the publishing internship, I’d actually forgotten that I’d applied. I was mid-way through the busy Christmas trade in a makeup retail store. I was happy to finally be working, but exhausted from years of post-graduate study, from trying to launch a freelance artistry career destroyed by a pandemic, from the never-ending insecurity of unemployment. My legs were screaming and I was limping back to the train station every day after I finished work. Centrelink, the demon constantly breathing down my neck throughout my studies and the pandemic, was threatening to send me to work for the dole even though I was already working. I was living in a constant state of fatigue, burn out, exhaustion and hypervigilance, just waiting for it all to come crashing down around me. To be honest, the idea of a career in publishing was a distant memory.

‘I’m so happy to let you know that out of over two hundred candidates, we have chosen you as the Sydney intern!’ they told me.

Open Book is a six-month program that pays me a wage to work in the publishing industry (and not just at one place, but different publishing houses big and small). After six years across two university degrees, along with multiple unpaid or casual jobs in publishing and bookselling with no long-term security, a door that had felt slammed shut in my face was swung wide open.

Even more miraculous, I hadn’t tried to dazzle with my application or put on a professional mask—on a whim, jaded by all my past experiences, I did the opposite: I put my heart on my sleeve and presented the vulnerability and reality of what it means to be me—an avid reader, a writer, a proudly queer person, an Indigenous person, a person who after much adversity just wanted a foot in the door.


I wasn’t much of a reader until I was about six, when I got in trouble and the punishment from my mum was to go and read a book. The tale about a boy wizard, you know the one. From there, I just fell in love with stories. I’d read a page and this otherworldly movie would come to life in my mind. I met characters that felt real and whole, who I felt I knew like I knew myself. Who had troubles, like me, but also triumphs, like Enid Blyton’s children climbing the Faraway Tree, the whacky and wonderful worlds of Roald Dahl, the traumas of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs. This kinship with books was solidified when my sister ran away on my 7th birthday. It broke my family and we all found our own ways to cope. For me, that was reading. It provided an escape from the chaos, a safe space to get lost into worlds far away from my own. Meanwhile writing let me express my emotions through poetry and stories, venting onto a page to make sense of the world I was trapped in.

Literature continued to be a lifeline. In high school, the English classroom was my refuge, one of the few I had. High school as a non-sporty closeted gay kid at a sporting school was nothing short of a fresh hell on earth. Throw in a troubled home life and my mental health plummeted to rock bottom. Reading gave me the opportunity to escape into the furore of fan feuds (I’m still #TeamJacob), the heightened real-world scenarios of commercial fiction, the grim and gruesome realities of true crime, the mysteries in thrillers, the otherworldly and expansive imagination of fantasy books, the trials and tribulations of young adult novels. I would read anything, honestly. Lit classics, courtroom dramas, romance—all offered something.

At uni, I completed a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Writing and Gender Studies. Undergrad was where I found my voice, not just as a writer, but as a person. Gender Studies introduced me to the revolutionary voices of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and bell hooks, as well as concepts like gender performativity, shifting masculinities and feminism. Academic writing let me deep dive into the feminist literature of Roxane Gay, Mary Wollstonecraft and Maya Angelou. My undergrad taught me how to have my own opinions and to voice them. I gained so much from studying arts and humanities.

And like many who love books and end up in publishing, I wanted to be a writer. In 2012, this shifted from an idealistic fantasy into more of a tangible reality that I wanted to chase thanks to an unexpected informal mentor: Jodi Picoult. Or as so many people say to me, ‘the Jodi Picoult?!’ I had met her during her book tour where I gave her a letter confessing my undying love for her books and how they had helped me in tough times. Graciously, she responded via email and that began the blossoming of a friendship going on 10 years now. She told me that it was evident I could tell a story and I should have no doubt in it. She believed in me, and it meant so much. That’s all you need sometimes, to change your life.


My path to publishing has been fraught, the road often unclear.

In 2018 (against Jodi’s advice) I studied a Master of Creative Writing. This turned out to be largely damaging for my prospects. Burned out, uninspired and itching to earn a living with my wealth of transferable skills, I expressed interest in working in publishing just before finishing my six-year tertiary journey. I had bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I had contacts in the industry, I worked for years in bookshops, I had even interned for two months at Pearson Australia through my university’s Indigenous Cadetship program—and even with all this, I just could not find a way in.

‘You should have volunteered full-time for a year instead,’ I was told by a senior member of the English Department. In that moment, it felt like everything I’d worked for had floated away like tendrils of smoke in the wind. As far as I could see, publishing was a world for those who could afford to do it. The masters apparently meant nothing. Pursuing internships and low paid jobs really hammered this to me.

Publishing in Australia is sold as a hard industry with shit pay and not the best working conditions. That’s the unfortunate reality I’ve experienced. I really hope this changes. Publishing in Australia is much smaller than countries like the UK or the US, and opportunities are limited. I would scour for jobs every week, applying for the very few entry-level jobs I saw, as well as internships. A diploma in makeup artistry seemed like a far more viable option. By the time I applied for Open Book, I was tired of trying to impress people. I wanted someone to understand the struggle of getting a foot in the door. Ironically, everyone involved with the Open Book process really praised my application because it was authentic and showed resilience, they said that made it stand out.


When asked why I keep pursuing this dream of working in publishing, the only real answer I can give is this: ultimately, I just enjoy being around books. Books and the people who love them as much as I do. Those people that understand the need to read just one more chapter, or how it feels to cry over the page. They read because they want to, not because they have to. But love alone doesn’t pay the bills. I hope my enthusiasm, care and skills honed over years will be valued by this industry.

I’m optimistic—I finished my first placement for Open Book this year having left an impression. I expressed my opinions freely and loudly. I raised concerns about intersectionality, about diversity, representation and authentic voices, and about the harsh realities of being a minority in the Australian literary world. I learnt how the industry is female driven, and everyone knows everyone. I gained experience in sales, publicity, marketing, editorial, and print and digital publishing. I networked with everyone who worked at the publisher; I even had the opportunity to send some of my writing to the CEO and the sales manager. Recently, I received copies of the first books I ever worked on. Most importantly, I stood firm as a proud queer person, as a proud Indigenous person and have done what I promised everyone in this program I would do: use that lens to inform my decisions, because my point of view is important too. There are so many voices that have been overlooked in Australian publishing for far too long behind the scenes, as well as on the shelf.

Of all the things I pursued to get here, what has helped me thrive while undertaking the internship has not only been my love of books but my practical experience getting them directly into reader’s hands. Throughout this internship, people have praised bookselling experience as being an important tool to have. I know the vast array of readers, what they like, what publishers are putting out, and the power in customer loyalty and how that directly affects business. This all transfers to working in publishing: Who is the audience we are marketing to? Is there market potential at all for a submitted work? What are the gaps in the market and can we fill them? What can we do that’s new? My biggest piece of advice to anyone wanting to work in publishing is to get some solid experience in bookselling.

I’m so thankful that I didn’t need to volunteer full-time for a year to do this internship, nor did I need the master’s degree (there’s no prerequisite for any academic qualification to apply). Open Book is a game-changer for me and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it—but I hope it’s just the beginning of more programs like this and the industry as a whole becomes more accessible.

Moving forward, I don’t know what the future holds for me. I just want to continue championing good books and new voices as I wade my way through, just like I’ve always done. As hard as this industry can be, I hope it has a place for me.

Bohdi Byles (he/they) is a writer/makeup artist based in Sydney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts double majoring in Gender Studies and Writing, a Masters of Creative Writing, and has a Diploma in Screen and Media (Specialist Makeup Services). He has professional experience working in multiple book stores (independent and commercial), was editorial team leader of Issue 14 of The Quarry, and has had his writing published previously in Archer Magazine. He is a vocal queer person, a proud Indigenous person, a passionate creative and an avid reader.

This article was first published on Kill Your Darlings, and is reproduced here with permission. Open Book is a paid internship program aiming to increase cultural diversity in the Australian publishing workforce, which is supported by the Australia Council and the Copyright Agency. The APA is a partner of the Open Book program.



Category: Features